Background: Multiple previous investigations have documented persistent elevations in depressive symptoms after stroke for stroke survivors and for family caregivers. However, relatively few studies have examined both groups simultaneously, and none have tested for possible predictive linkages in longitudinal analyses.
Methods: We collected interview data from 248 stroke survivors and their primary family caregivers who were enrolled in the Caring for Adults Recovering from the Effects of Stroke (CARES) project. CARES is an ancillary study to the national REasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study. Stroke survivors and caregivers were interviewed at 9-, 18-, 27- and 36-months after an adjudicated stroke event. Measures administered to both groups included the 20-item Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CESD) and the 12-item Short Form Health Survey (SF-12) of health-related quality of life. Cross-lagged panel analyses were used to investigate linkages between stroke survivors and caregivers over time on these measures.
Results: Clinically significant levels of depressive symptoms, as defined by a score of 16 or more on the CESD, were found for 17.0% of the stroke survivors and 13.7% of the caregivers at 9-months after stroke. Longitudinal models revealed that high stroke survivor depressive symptoms at 9-months post-stroke predicted increases in caregiver depressive symptoms at 18-months post-stroke (standardized adjusted regression coefficient = 0.18, p = 0.003). No longitudinal predictive effects were found for caregiver depressive symptoms on stroke survivor outcomes or for the SF-12 measures.
Conclusions: Clinically significant levels of depressive symptoms were relatively rare 9-months after stroke in this population-based sample of stroke survivors and family caregivers. Stroke survivor depressive symptoms longitudinally predict caregiver depressive symptoms, but caregiver well-being was not found to longitudinally predict stroke survivor depression or quality of life. Treating elevated depressive symptoms in stroke survivors may also improve caregiver well-being.